David Henry of St. Louis is celebrating an anniversary in Buffalo. On Monday, it was exactly one month since he left Boston Common, pushing a cart that looks like an oversize mailbox, and he plans to keep pushing it along the highways and byways of America until he reaches Los Angeles.
More than anything else, he wants people to ask him, “Why?”
The writing on the side of his cart, which contains supplies for the trip, does some explaining for him: “Climate-walker.org: Walking coast-to-coast” it says.
Henry, 52 and an IT professional, is tromping across the heartland, trying to restart the national conversation about climate change.
“I’m not a scientist. I’m just a concerned citizen,” Henry said by phone from a convenience store on Niagara Falls Boulevard. “And what I see is just a political stalemate.”
In his mission statement/news release, he writes, “It is time that we all stop the denial of the scientific consensus and take ownership of the climate change problem.”
Before anyone gets into polar ice caps, conspiracy theories, or the pros and cons of carbon dioxide emissions with Henry, though, they want to know the really important stuff: How far does he walk every day? (An average of 18 or 19 miles; 25 on a good day.) How many pairs of shoes does he have? (He expects to wear out four or five pairs.) And where does he sleep? (A combination of camping, hotels, hostels and folks found on couchsurfing.org.)
Henry hopes to have at least 100 “good conversations” about climate change along his journey, and he has been impressed with the people he has met so far. Many of them are now commenting on his website and following him on Facebook.
“I have learned you really can’t judge a book by its cover,” he said. ... I’ve had guys I thought were garage mechanics quoting Robert Frost to me.”
He has had no difficulty finding people to talk to, largely because he is pushing a big white box with a “slow moving vehicle” triangle on its nose and, sometimes, a large rainbow-colored umbrella over its driver.
“When I put that up, it really looks like I’m selling ice cream,” Henry jokes.
Ice cream or not, the cart draws the curious.
“I have never gone up to anyone to ask them, ‘What do you think about climate change?’ ” Henry says.
Instead, he meets people who want to support him, and challenge him, and find out why he cares so much. What he hasn’t encountered in any large way are bullies.
“I thought before I started that there would be a lot more people wanting to pick fights, but I can count them on one hand, it happens so little,” Henry said.
Although, he added, Monday morning there was this one guy, in Lockport.
“He just kept on with a barrage of zingers and insults. That’s not a conversation, and to those people I just say, ‘Well, OK,’ and get away as fast as I can.”
Henry was spending Monday night at the Econo Lodge on the boulevard and plans to take today “off,” walking only about 9 miles to the hostel where he will stay tonight in downtown Buffalo, so he can talk with more people here.
Henry expects his trip will take about seven months. He heads to Cleveland from here, then through Ohio and west to St. Louis, where he lives. He’ll continue through Oklahoma, Texas and the southwest to reach California.